A scenic, almost off-trail, hike to the ruins of a real prospector’s cabin and stamp mill.
|Total Distance: 2.4 miles out & back||Elevation Gain: 415ft. (1,317ft. to 1,184ft.)|
|Difficulty: Easy||0-5 Mile Difficulty: Moderate|
|View Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0 stars||Author’s Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0 stars|
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|Pets: No||Horses: No|
|Best Seasons: November-April||Special Permits: None|
|Water Availability: No potable water; no swimming||Overnight Options: None|
|Trailhead Amenities: None||Crowd Factor: Solitude|
|Trailhead Access: 1.2|
Mile-by-Mile: Route to John Cyty’s Cabin & Stamp Mill
0.0 Unmarked Keane Wonder Spring Trailhead (1,317ft.). This is not the Keane Wonder Trailhead; the unmarked, almost unidentifiable trail is located about halfway down the west side of the Keane Wonder Parking Lot. Head west down by the old water tank and locate one of the two trails (there are two trails for much of the hike) and follow it generally northwest along the old pipeline. (36.667797°, -116.910710°)
0.75 Cross The Keane Wonder Spring Outlet (1,212ft.). You can hop across the many small channels created by the outlet of the Keane Wonder Spring. Nearby, a concrete basin collects water in a stagnate pool. The path more or less vanishes while it crosses the outlet channels; pick it up on the other side. Keep walking northwest on the trail; the old buildings will fairly quickly come into view on the hillside ahead and slightly to the right. Pass more springs about mile 1.0 and mile 1.1. (36.672647°, -116.921850°)
1.2 John Cyty’s Cabin & Mill (1,260ft.). Use respect as you explore the cabin and stamp mill; the boards around the cabin may or may not be safe to walk on. Views across the valley are excellent. For even better views, you can hike up toward the Big Bell Extension, though the path is very steep and long. (36.676338°, -116.926834°)
History & More
“Old Johnnie” Cyty was a colorful character and infamous around Rhyolite and the surrounding mining claims. He struck a claim near the Keane Wonder, then had a shoot-out with another prospector who also claimed the claim as his own. As Mr. Kyle was rather well-liked by the locals, and Johnnie was not exactly popular, even in the county seat, it’s not surprising that Old Johnnie ended up in prison for a time.
After his release, Old Johnnie returned to “his” claim to extract gold, building the cabin and stamp mill to refine the ore. While the mine was never profitable, Old Johnnie found other ways to make money, including an ill-fated attempt in the dance hall business in Rhyolite.
Eventually, Old Johnnie was hired by the owners of the Keane Wonder Mine to guard the rusting machinery after the mine was shut down. He took the job seriously, protecting it from early visitors to the area – one traveler complained that the caretaker was furious when she took a handful of hay from an old stable to feed the mules that were transporting her and her companion across the desert. Old Johnnie loved to entertain guests with stories of the wild west – of which he was always a hero. The prospector moved to Beatty shortly before his presumed death in 1944.
Download Trail Map
From Furnace Creek, take CA-190 north 10.6 miles to the junction for the Beatty Cutoff. Turn right toward Beatty. After 5.7 miles of driving north, turn right on the gravel road to the Keane Wonder Mine Trailhead 2.8 miles later.
It is extremely dangerous to enter a mine due to unstable shafts, gasses, and more. Do not enter mines, even if they are apparently open!
Walking on, climbing, entering, ascending, descending, or traversing any mine, structure, feature, or ruin is prohibited.
Toxic chemicals or ore may be present around mine sites. Enter at your own risk.
Possessing, destroying, injuring, defacing, removing, digging, or disturbing any mine, structure, feature, or ruin is also prohibited.
Leave No Trace Principles are enforced
Drones and model aircrafts are prohibited
Camping is permitted only in designated sites or in areas open to dispersed backcountry camping
All park rules and regulations
12 Month Pass: $55/Death Valley Annual Pass (valid at Death Valley National Park). $80/America the Beautiful Annual Pass (valid at all national park and federal fee areas). $20/Annual Senior Pass (62 years or older US citizens; valid at all national park and federal fee areas). Free/4th Grade Pass (Valid Sept. 1-August 31 of the child’s 4th Grade school year). Free/Military Pass (valid for all active military personel and their dependents with a CAC Card or DD Form 1173).
Lifetime Pass: $80/Lifetime Senior Pass (62 years or older US citizens; valid at all national park and federal fee areas). Free/Access Pass (available to all US citizens with perminent disabilities). Free/Access for Veterans and Gold Star Families Pass (valid for all military and veterans with a CAC card, Veteran HJealth Identification Card, Veteran ID Card, or veteran’s designation on state-issued drivers license or identification card.)
Route to John Cyty’s Cabin & Stamp Mill
“Old Johnnie” Cyty was a bit of a scoundrel, but he also played a role in the later years of the Keane Wonder Mine. He wasn’t very popular around Rhyolite – possibly because of his tendency to pull a gun to settle disputes – so when both he and another man (who, it happens, was quite popular around Rhyolite) both claimed to have staked gold mines on the same property, it’s not surprising that sympathies lay with the other party.
Exactly what happened is up for debate, and an unbiased jury was rather lacking. But suffice to say that Johnnie Cyty won the dispute with his pistol. He was charged with murder – though it was unclear who had pulled a gun first – and sentenced to jail. Rhyolite residents thought he’d gotten off too easy, but within a few years, Old Johnnie was back at his claim, prospecting for gold. He built the cabin that still stands and the stamp mill behind it, transporting ore down from mines and prospects higher in the mountains.
As the years moved on, Old Johnnie became the caretaker of the buildings around the Keane Wonder Mine. He would entertain early travelers to Death Valley with stories of prospectors and explorers around campfires, but woe to you if you as much as took a handful of hay from the Keane Wonder property!
Old Johnnie Cyty never made big money on his mine, but his cabin and mill are still worth visiting, in part because they’re still in fairly good condition. You’ll need to hike to the water channels below the Keane Wonder Spring and then continue following the trail northwest across the desert.
The scenery improves between Keane Spring and John Cyty’s cabin, mostly because there’s more in the way of views. You’ll pass by a couple of other small springs/water holding tanks along the way. Every one is disgusting in the extreme.
The views of the cabin and mill as you approach them are quite good. It’s not hard to figure out where to go even if the trail is vague in places.
We didn’t go into the cabin (it didn’t look strong enough for that), but we did take pictures and walked around the outside. We also took a good look at the stamp mill, which was mostly intact. There’s even ore or rocks in the ore loader.
From here, you can retrace your steps to your vehicle for a 2.4 mile out & back hike. If you want to continue up toward the Big Bell Extension (and the mines Old Johnnie worked for gold), it’s a long, steep haul though the views make it very worth the hike.